Five Stories by Eric Sheridan Wyatt

Five Stories by Eric Sheridan Wyatt is a book featuring the first five stories I had accepted for publication.

Five Stories by Eric Sheridan Wyatt is a book featuring the first five stories I had accepted for publication.

From time-to-time, students in my fiction and legacy writing classes ask to read some of my published stories. Often times I would make digital or copy-printed versions of the stories available. But, recently, I decided to print a small book with the first five stories that earned me the coveted words from an editor: “We would like to print your story.”

Simply titled, Five Stories, this thin volume includes the following: Things He Wasn’t Supposed to Do, Cop-Cop Cop, Dudley’s Sacrifice, Solomon’s Ditch, and Most Dead Birds are Never Found.

The book is available for purchase through my printing partner, Lulu, and if you click on this link, you will be taken to the product page.

Some of you, dear readers, have already read all or some of these stories. If you would like, I would be very happy if you would follow that link and leave a review of the stories and rate the book so that it might attract attention of other readers.

As always, thank you all for your support.

Happy Writing!

P.S. Stay tuned for a big announcement next week. I have a new opportunity I am very excited to share with you.

Hey, writers…

This is a quick post. A sort of poll question, if you will…

What service or resource have you tried to find to help you with your writing, but have been unable to find, either on-line or in person? Or, another way to ask: What is something you’ve said, “If only I could find _x_ it would help me be a better writer!” but have been unable to find?

If something comes to mind, feel free to post it below, or send me an email. Ask other writer friends to chime in. I’m curious to hear…

There are no wrong answers. 🙂

I Give Up.

“I thought you’d already given up blogging,” some of you might say. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve been actively engaged in maintaining this blog, so your reaction is justified.

No, what I mean is, I’m giving up teaching writing.

This is a tough decision, because in the last few years, I’ve seen some really amazing things with my writing students and private instruction clients.

There have been people in my Legacy of Words classes that swore to me they couldn’t write a thing, and yet they hand me these pages full of lovely words that make me laugh or cry or sigh with contentment. I’ve had fiction writers whose eyes flare wide with that moment of recognition and epiphany, then come to me and tell me they finally figured out the ending to that story that’s been bothering them, or that they started a new novel and wrote seven chapters in one week.

So, I thought I was doing a good job. I thought my words, my encouragement, my excitement for the written word was spilling forth in ways that brought people along to their “next level.”

But I found out today: I’ve been doing it all wrong.

How do I know? I stumbled across a video titled, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.”

I’ve been ripping these students and clients off, apparently. I’m a charlatan. A scam artist. Because, I was working under the wrong set of assumptions. Here’s what I believed about writing fiction, which is contradictory to this new method:

1) Writing fiction is hard. The idea of “effortlessly” writing anything is foreign to me. Drafting is hard. Revision is hard. Getting feedback is hard, and knowing just what to do with the feedback is even harder. I don’t even make a shopping list effortlessly. Practice and evaluate and revise. Repeat. Repeat. That’s what it takes. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

2) There is no perfect story, or novel. Naeem Murr is a great writer, and one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the joy of knowing. He told me, and I believed him, that there is no perfect work. That there is always something that could be done better. That even the best story will seem, to the writer, deficient a few years later, when he or she looks back at the piece and sees how the problems of the story would be tackled differently now. Which leads to…

3) Learning the craft of fiction is an ongoing, never-ending process. The best story you can write today is not the best story you can write. Next month, next year, in twenty years, this “best thing I’ve ever written” will seem a little stale, full of holes, naive, and clumsy. That’s because the more we write, the better we get, and the more we are capable of.

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But all three of these assumptions are destroyed with a title like, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.” There is no effort needed. There is no growth in craft, because you can’t improve on perfection. You don’t need years of practice and learning and synthesizing knowledge: it only takes an hour to be set.

I hope this guy is charging at least $30,000 for this information. If he’s able to do in one hour what an MFA program only PREPARED me to do, then he deserves it.

My apologies to those of you from whom I’ve bilked money. I’m chopping my snake-oil wagon up for fire wood and shaving off my handlebar mustache and cutting my plaid-striped carnival barker’s suit into strips to be used as prayer flags for the yurt where I am planning to retire and write, effortlessly, one perfect story every day for the rest of my life. I may take the day off, occasionally, for holidays and such. There is no reason to over-burden the world with perfect stories.

Happy 2014 – And More…

According to WordPress, it’s been 182 days since I last paid attention to this blog. (If you are an agent looking to represent me, and doing your research on my social media skills, please ignore that sentence…)

And, it had been a few more months, before that, when I was last truly active as a regular blogger.

It would be easy to make a new year’s resolution, here, and promise to return to these pages and continue to provide content to this blog which has been in existence since January of 2010. I should feel compelled to keep it up… Over 300 posts and 60,000 views and comments and emails and, and, and…

And, a lot has happened in the four years since I began writing here. And, a lot has happened in the last four months.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring, and the many options are such that I won’t even pretend to promise regular blog posts or anything else. There are enough missed opportunities and broken promises in life, without adding to that with a statement I know will not bear fruit.

I do want to say, though, if you are a subscribed (or otherwise regular) reader of this blog, I have certainly appreciated your comments, input, emails, and contact through other social media. Thanks for sticking around. And please, know you are always welcome to drop me a line, no matter if this blog is active or not.

Issue 30 of Ruminate Magazine is centered around the theme of "The Body" and it features my short story, Dog Years

Issue 30 of Ruminate Magazine is centered around the theme of “The Body” and it features my short story, Dog Years

Also, if you are interested, I have two new fiction pieces out and about in the world.

Dog Years, the short story of Keith Hutcheson, a vet who is compelled to go off into the woods to weep after every pet euthanasia, is featured in the current issue of Ruminate Magazine. I’d be happy if you were able to let the kind folks at Ruminate know you appreciate seeing my story featured there. (There is some great artwork in the issue, and poetry as well.)

And, coming up in late-January or February, my story called, It’s Never Quite What it Seems, will appear in Saw Palm, Volume 8. (The link here is to their homepage, which currently still reflects the content of Volume 7, but hopefully soon that will change!) I thought this story was a perfect fit for Saw Palm, and I was very happy they agreed!

I wish you all a very prosperous new year in which you become a better version of yourself— just a little closer to the person you are meant to become. Happy writing!

Other Pursuits

Instagram reawakened my interest in photography.

Instagram reawakened my interest in photography.

I often talk to other writers about having other artistic outlets. For some of us it may be painting, or dance, or theater, or music. Maybe it is wood working, landscape or garden design, or perhaps cooking. For some of us, we have a whole host of creative things we enjoy, even if we aren’t particularly good at them. These other areas of creativity feed into our writing rhythm and help propel our subconscious mind forward with our writing work, even if we don’t quite realize that is what’s happening.

Photography is one of the things I’ve always enjoyed. In recent years, I’ve allowed that interest to wane. It wasn’t that I was no longer interested in photography, but I did allow myself to drift away from it.

That changed last year, when I began posting photos to Instagram. I had been taking photos with my iPhone to document the little moments of beauty and grace that happen in my day-to-day life, but most of those photos were never shared, and rarely seen anywhere besides the small screen of my smart phone. Instagram gave me a way to manipulate the pictures (through filters) and present them to a wider audience. If you are interested in seeing some of my Instagram photos, you can click here.

Now, I share photos quite often via Instagram, and that act of sharing photos and receiving some little positive reinforcement has reawakened my photographic tendencies, even though the photos I share there are taken almost exclusively with my iPhone. Taking those photos started the ball rolling.

I’ve taken my “real” camera (a Nikon 3100 DSLR) out and about more often recently, and not just for snapshot photos. I’ve returned to a place where I can really consider the composition and content of the photos I’m taking. This “slowing down” and drinking in the details is something that serves me well as a fiction writer, and I’m glad I’ve been able to return to my photographic roots.

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The pursuit of other creative activities can give the writing life a boost.

The pursuit of other creative activities can give the writing life a boost.

I know a few of my regular readers are also interested in photography, so I’m going to post some links below to SnapKnot and a contest they are having to give away either a Cannon 5D Mark III or a Nikon D800. (If I win, I’m picking the Nikon…) SnapKnot is a wedding photographer directory where soon-to-be-wed couples can search for the perfect photographer for their big day. They are taking entries online and will give away the camera later in the year. Whether you are a Cannon fan or a Nikon fan, this would be a great camera to own. Big thanks to the SnapKnot wedding photography directory for offering this great camera giveaway!

David Jauss and Knowing Too Much

Sometimes I come across an article about writing that I know I’m going to return to again and again. David Jauss writes just such an article in the March/April issue of The Writer’s Chronicle. (I’m clipping it out and saving it, AND making a link to the digital version of the story a permanent computer bookmark…)

In the article, Homo Sapiens vs. Homo Fictus, Jauss explores (deeply) the differences between “real people” and the characters that we bring to life in our fiction, and in doing so, he takes on some of the most well-seasoned writing advice most of us have received, either from fiction writing instructors, workshop participants, other writers, or books forever enshrined in the Creative Writing Instruction cannon.

Near the start of the article, Jauss says this:

The article by David Jauss quoted here is printed in the March/April 2013 issue of The Writer's Chronicle.

The article by David Jauss quoted here is printed in the March/April 2013 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle.

But there are two other differences between Homo fictus and Homo sapiens that are far more important, and they are the differences we most need to keep in mind when we create our characters. First, unlike real people, fictional characters often have inner lives we can witness. And second, compared to actual human beings, fictional people are, as William Gass has said, “mostly empty canvas”—we know relatively little about their physical appearance, their behavior and relationships, their past histories, and so forth. Homo fictus, then, consists in large part of the presence of something that can’t be observed in real people—the inner life—and the relative absence of things that can be observed—the outer life. Paradoxically, these two patently unrealistic qualities of Homo fictus are largely responsible for creating the impression that a character is “real”—provided we don’t overdo or underdo them.

The rest of the article (sixteen pages of wisdom) examines that balance that we must strike between OVERDOING and UNDERDOING our characterizations.

Along the way, he pokes holes in some writing advice, or criticism, you may have received, or given yourself. It isn’t that Jauss is jettisoning these “pearls of writing wisdom”, but he DOES make a strong case that a bull-headed charge in one direction can be as limiting to our writing as a bull-headed stubbornness in the opposite direction.

Here is a partial list of items Jauss addresses:

  1. Characters should seem real to the reader, but HOW writers create that realism is not dependent on knowing every small detail of the character’s life: realism comes from picking and choosing the IMPORTANT bits and presenting THOSE to the reader. To do this, the writer can’t mistake the character for a real person, and he must understand the difference between how we perceive real people and how we, as writers, perceive and invent our characters.
  2. The main differences Jauss points to (the visible presence of the inner life, and the near exclusion of the hum-drum outer life) demonstrate just how “flat” even the most “well-rounded” fictional characters really are. To quote Jauss: “…compared to real people, literary characters are almost ludicrously simple, barely two-dimensional—far more flat than round. It may be that, as the old joke has it, deep down we’re all shallow, but even the shallowest human being is infinitely more complex than any fictional character.”
  3. The idea that we should know everything about our characters–every detail, every reaction, every habit, every failure, every triumph–before we start writing, in his words, “…causes far and away the most trouble…” Often, the opposite is true: the closer we come to knowing, and presenting, everything there is to know about a character, the further we are from a realistic expression of the character.

There are plenty of other ideas for Jauss to cover in the other thirteen pages of this essay, but hopefully this brief look at the piece will give you reason to find a copy for yourself (if you don’t already have one) and spend some time with it.

I’d love to hear any responses you have to his perspective. I know, for me, I’m letting some of these concepts sink in, still, but I find the points are resonating with my own work.

Have a great day, every one, and Happy Writing!

 

Little Edits: A Peek Into Process

I’ve blogged before about my process. It is something that a lot of people find interesting. I know I enjoy discussing process and learning about the creative flow as others experience it, even if it doesn’t apply to the way MY writing gets done.

One of the key elements of my work flow seems to be this: I write first drafts long hand, and then transfer the words to the computer at a later date.

First, I am a big believer that writing with pen (or, pencil) and paper is one way of unlocking a very different side of your creativity. I also know that not everyone has the same process, so I never suggest anyone HAS to write long hand. I do suggest that everyone TRY it, especially if you are finding yourself “stuck” in some dark corner of your writing.

Second, when I do get around to typing the words, that process serves as a unique sort of “first edit” for the work. I’ve come to think of it as an “in-line” edit, because I find myself transported into that fictional world I’m trying to create, and that re-immersion tends to free up additional details and subtleties.

I thought I would share a brief look into that process for you, today.

The section of my novel I was working on yesterday included a brief digression of the narrator who is recounting a story she was told about an unusual landscape feature of a house she and her husband lived in: a lawn chair wedged into the upper branches of an old maple tree.

The original, hand-written paragraph reads like this:

According to our only neighbor–the house was surrounded by corn fields on two sides and a wooded area across the road–the chair ended up in the tree one night after a marital squabble had spilled outdoors when a toaster oven had made easy work of the sliding glass door. The husband was so angry about the broken glass–or maybe, he’d been trying to brown an english muffin–that he began tossing the lawn furniture around the back yard while the wife hurled curses at him and sprayed him with a garden hose. Eventually, the festivities came to an end when the wife chucked a garden trowel in the husband’s direction. Her aim was true and she had to rush him to Oxford for eleven stitches, but not before he gave the lawn chair one last, angry heave.

As I typed the paragraph, some minor changes in both content and structure were realized. Here is the paragraph as it now stands:

According to Mr. Dahlhauser, our only neighbor—the maze house was surrounded by a corn field on one side and in the back, and there was a wooded area across the highway—the chair ended up in the tree one night when a marital squabble had spilled outdoors after the toaster oven made easy work of the sliding glass door of the kitchen. The husband was angry about the broken glass. Or, maybe, he’d been trying to brown an english muffin. Either way, the incident inspired a rage in the man. He began tossing the lawn furniture around the back yard like that commercial ape tossed American Tourister luggage. The wife stood in the archway of the glass-less door and hurled curses instead of furniture, but with similar simian aggressiveness. Something she said provoked her husband to turn the garden hose against her, which prompted her to take up gardening tools, which she chucked at his head. Her aim was true. The trowel cut a deep gorge and she had to rush him to Oxford for eleven stitches, but not before he gave the lawn chair one last, bloody, angry heave.

There are some things about this version that make it clearly superior. The lines about the “commercial ape” and the wife’s “simian aggressiveness” are particularly appealing to me, and the entire scenario seems a bit clearer.

Don’t misunderstand: I still consider this the first draft of the text. (I typically call this the first completed draft, once the words are actually in the novel software and are ready for further editing.) I see things I’m not happy with, chief among them, the first digression about the location of the house compared to the corn fields. I am confident when I get to “editing mode” things will still change.

But, this paragraph is a good example of how my workflow molds and shapes the words, even in these earliest stages. I write what I know, and tweak it a little as I type the words into the computer. Sometimes, that means adding details, and sometimes that means shortening sequences. Overall, I find I’m left with a first draft that is more full than if I were to sit at the computer from the start.

What I don’t do, at this early stage, is labor over commas and specific words. There will be plenty of time for tinkering with the text, later. For now, in this stage, flow is much more important to me than precision.

You may have a different method. If you’d like to share, please do so below. I’m always interested in how others find their creative sweet spot. It’s the sort of nerdy, writerly thing I enjoy talking about.